Least convenient location in Los Angeles (from Koreatown)

Talking to a friend, a question came up about finding the point in LA's road network that's most inconvenient to get to, with inconvenient being a vague notion describing a closed residential neighborhood full of dead ends; the furthest of these dead ends would be most inconvenient indeed. I decided to answer that question. All the code lives in a new repo: https://github.com/dkogan/culdesacs

I want inconvenient to mean

Furthest to reach via the road network, but nearest as-the-crow-flies.

Note that this type of metric is not a universal one, but is relative to a particular starting point. This makes sense, however: a location that's inconvenient from one location could be very convenient from another.

This metric could be expressed in many ways. I keep it simple, and compute a relative inefficiency coefficient:


Thus the goal is to find a location within a given radius of the starting point that maximizes this relative inefficiency.


I use OpenStreetMap for the road data. This is all aimed at bicycling, so I'm looking at all roads except freeways and ones marked private. I am looking at footpaths, trails, etc.

Once I have the road network, I run Dijkstra's Algorithm to compute the shortest path from my starting point to every other point on the map. Then I can easily compute the inefficiency for each such point, and pick the point with the highest inefficiency. I use OSM nodes as the "points". It is possible that the location I'm looking for is inbetween a pair of nodes, but the nodes will really be close enough. Also, the "distance" between adjacent nodes can take into account terrain type, elevation, road type and so on. I ignore all that, and simply look at the distance.


Each step in the process lives in its own program. This simplifies implementation and makes it easy to work on each piece separately.

Data import

First I query OSM. This is done with the query.pl script. It takes in the center point and the query radius. The query uses the OSM Overpass query language. I use this simple query, filling in the center point and radius:


 ["highway" !~ "motorway|motorway_link" ]
 ["access" !~ "private" ]
 ["access" !~ "no" ]



Sample invocation:

$ ./query.pl --center 34.0690448,-118.292924 --rad 20miles
  % Total    % Received % Xferd  Average Speed   Time    Time     Time  Current
                                 Dload  Upload   Total   Spent    Left  Speed
100  .....

$ ls -lhrt *(om[1])
-rw-r--r-- 1 dima dima 81M Aug 14 00:44 query_34.0690448_-118.292924_20miles.json

Data massaging

Now I need to take the OSM query results, and manipulate them into a form readable by the Dijkstra's algorithm solver. This is done by the massage_input.pl script. This script does nothing interesting, but it doesn it inefficiently, so it's CPU and RAM-hungry and takes a few minutes. Sample invocation:

$ ./massage_input.pl query_34.0690448_-118.292924_20miles.json > query_34.0690448_-118.292924_20miles.net

Neighbor list representation

An implementation choice here was how to represent the neighbor list for a node. I want the main computation (next section) to be able to query this very quickly, and I don't want the list to take much space, and I don't want to fragment my memory with many small allocations. Thus I have a single contiguous array of integers neighbor_pool. Each node has a single integer index into this pool. At this index the neighbor_pool contains a list of node indices that are neighbors of the node in question. A special node index of -1 signifies the end of the neighbor list for that node.

Inefficiency coefficient computation

I now feed the massaged data to Dijkstra's algorithm implemented in compute.c. I need a priority queue where elements can be inserted, removed and updated. Apparently most heap implementations don't have an 'update' mechanism, so it took a little while to find a working one. I ended up using phk's b-heap implementation from the varnish source tree. It stores arbitrary pointers (64-bit on my box); 32-bit indices into a pool would be more efficient, but this is fast enough.

Sample invocation:

$ ./compute < query_34.0690448_-118.292924_20miles.net > query_34.0690448_-118.292924_20miles.out

$ head -n 2 query_34.0690448_-118.292924_20miles.out
34.069046 -118.292923 0.000000 0.000000
34.070034 -118.292931 109.863564 109.863564

The output is all nodes, sorted by the road distance to the node. The columns are lat,lon,droad,ddirect.

Distance from latitude/longitude pairs

One implementation note here is how to compute the distance between two latitude/longitude pairs. The most direct way is to convert each latitude/longitude pair into a unit vector, compute the dot product, take the arccos and multiply by the radius of the Earth. This requires 9 trigonometric operations and relies on the arccos of a number close to 1, which is inaccurate. One could instead compute the arcsin of the magnitude of the cross-product, but this requires even more computation. I want something simpler:


This is nice and simple. Is it sufficiently accurate? This python script tests it:

import numpy as np
lat0,lon0 = 34.0690448,-118.292924  # 3rd/New Hampshire
lat1,lon1 = 33.93,-118.4314         # LAX

lat0,lon0,lat1,lon1 = [x * np.pi/180.0 for x in lat0,lon0,lat1,lon1]

Rearth = 6371000

v0 = np.array((np.cos(lat0)*np.cos(lon0), np.cos(lat0)*np.sin(lon0),np.sin(lat0)))
v1 = np.array((np.cos(lat1)*np.cos(lon1), np.cos(lat1)*np.sin(lon1),np.sin(lat1)))

dist_accurate = np.sqrt( (lat0-lat1)**2 + (lon0-lon1)**2 * np.cos(lat0)*np.cos(lat1) ) * Rearth
dist_approx   = np.arccos(np.inner(v0,v1)) * Rearth

print dist_accurate
print dist_approx
print dist_accurate - dist_approx

Between Koreatown and LAX there's quite a bit of difference in both latitude and longitude. Both methods say the distance is about 20km, with a disagreement of 3mm. This is plenty good enough.


I want to find the least convenient location from the intersection of New Hampshire and 3rd street in Los Angeles within 20 miles or so.

All the inconvenience coefficients computed from this data look like this (source):


As expected, straight roads away from the starting point are highly efficient, and we see this in the Vermont corridor, 3rd street, and to a lesser extent 6th street going East. Also as expected, routes that do not align with the street grid are inefficient: we see inefficiency bumps going NW and SW from the starting point. Eastward from the start the street grid tilts, so things are more complicated in that direction.

We also see that hilly neighborhoods stand out: winding streets are not efficient. The Santa Monica mountains, Verdugos, Mount Washington and the San Gabriel Mountains clearly stand out. One can also make out the river paths in the bottom-right as ridges of inconvenience: their limited access nature makes it necessary to travel longer distance to get to them.

Onwards. The output of compute is sorted by road distance from the start. I prepend the coefficient of inconvenience, re-sort the list and take 50 most inconvenient locations by invoking

$ <query_34.0690448_-118.292924_20miles.out
   awk '$4 {printf "%f %f %f %f %f\n",($3-$4)/$4,$1,$2,$3,$4}' |
   sort -n -k1 -r | head -n 50

The output is this:

Inconvenience Latitude Longitude Road distance (m) Direct distance (m)
1.142052 34.068104 -118.290382 549.216980 256.397583
1.139839 34.071629 -118.288956 994.499390 464.754242
1.139147 34.068066 -118.290436 542.721497 253.709305
1.136799 34.068130 -118.290329 554.962891 259.716919
1.127631 34.068031 -118.290466 537.980652 252.854279
1.120537 34.068153 -118.290253 562.437012 265.233337
1.106771 34.067982 -118.290504 531.442017 252.254257
1.103518 34.068169 -118.290184 568.985352 270.492218
1.083344 34.067940 -118.290527 526.321899 252.633179
1.079027 34.068176 -118.290100 576.762024 277.419189
1.041816 34.067883 -118.290543 519.805908 254.580200
1.034252 34.070259 -118.291237 418.454498 205.704315
1.019096 34.071594 -118.287888 1097.392212 543.506653
0.974731 34.068214 -118.289680 617.407532 312.654022
0.970095 34.068176 -118.289719 611.899475 310.593842
0.917598 34.068111 -118.289383 656.267517 342.234131
0.910048 34.068165 -118.289383 650.329041 340.477783
0.902491 34.068214 -118.289383 644.814758 338.931915
0.770809 34.067570 -118.290543 485.023560 273.899414
0.760711 34.068214 -118.288643 712.981384 404.939484
0.753344 34.068214 -118.288597 717.197876 409.045654
0.750541 34.033188 -118.279716 7297.569824 4168.751465
0.747349 34.031826 -118.279968 7526.415039 4307.333008
0.743357 34.067772 -118.289474 606.347107 347.804382
0.741902 34.067787 -118.289436 610.249084 350.334900
0.740024 34.067749 -118.289505 602.555115 346.291290
0.739944 34.031769 -118.279823 7511.619141 4317.161621
0.738388 34.031582 -118.280746 7499.802734 4314.228516
0.737889 34.067795 -118.289398 613.863831 353.223755
0.737716 34.031742 -118.279800 7507.977051 4320.601562
0.736297 34.031372 -118.280258 7550.486816 4348.613770
0.735083 34.068108 -118.288734 693.459473 399.669403
0.734607 34.067730 -118.289520 600.010803 345.905945
0.732851 34.031685 -118.279747 7499.933105 4328.088379
0.730817 34.067795 -118.289352 618.080322 357.103241
0.730543 34.031654 -118.279732 7496.259766 4331.739746
0.728622 34.031628 -118.279724 7493.208496 4334.787109
0.727123 34.067707 -118.289536 597.103455 345.721344
0.726802 34.031601 -118.279724 7490.239258 4337.637207
0.724309 34.031563 -118.279739 7485.770508 4341.315430
0.723138 34.067791 -118.289307 622.318115 361.153992
0.722826 34.031540 -118.279755 7482.862793 4343.366211
0.722384 34.094849 -118.236145 10273.032227 5964.425293
0.721979 34.094719 -118.235779 10309.708008 5987.128906
0.721011 34.094639 -118.235474 10339.187500 6007.625977
0.720812 34.094620 -118.235405 10345.856445 6012.193359
0.720105 34.031498 -118.279778 7477.742188 4347.258789
0.720078 34.094543 -118.235138 10371.867188 6029.880859
0.719789 34.031509 -118.279755 7475.278809 4346.624512
0.719616 34.095020 -118.236320 10248.023438 5959.484863

There are 3 clusters of data. All the stuff < 500m away from the start is mostly degenerate and uninteresting (source):


Most of the points are in walkways in Shatto Recreation Center. They're all so close to the start that any inefficiency is exaggerated by the small direct distance. I make the rules, so I claim these aren't the least convenient point.

Next we have the points about 4.2km away as the crow flies (source):


These all appear in an improperly-mapped group of sidewalks around Saint James park: http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=18/34.03173/-118.27892.

Here the sidewalks appear as separate ways that don't connect with the roads they abut. So according to the data, connecting to the network of sidewalks can only happen in one location, making these appear less convenient than they actually are. (I think these should be removed from OSM, but it looks like the OSM committee people think that mapping sidewalks as separate ways is acceptable. OK; it'll be fixed eventually in some way).

The next cluster of data is about 6km away as the crow flies (source):


These are all at the road connecting to the Metrolink maintenance facility at Taylor Yard: http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=17/34.09371/-118.23463. This makes sense! This location is on the other side of the LA river from Koreatown, so getting here requires a lengthy detour to the nearest bikeable bridge. The nearest one (Riverside Drive) is 2.5km by road away, but this is in the opposite direction from Koreatown. The nearest one in the other direction is Fletcher Drive, 3.8km by road.

So the least convenient point from New Hampshire / 3rd is at lat/lon 34.094849,-118.236145. This location is 10.3km away by road, but only 6.0km as the crow flies, for an inconvenience coefficient of 0.72.